Last week we harked back to a few sets that didn't age particularly well, Fallen Empires and Homelands, along with the two original Snow sets: Ice Age and Alliances. Ironically, for as poorly as Fallen Empires was received, it includes most of the powerful paper commons yet to be printed on Magic Online including Goblin Grenade, High Tide, and Hymn to Tourach.
This week we look to the first block of Magic sets designed for Limited play: the Mirage block of Mirage, Visions and Weatherlight.
Aside from their stunning artwork, will the attention shift to balanced Limited play keep us from uncovering more of Pauper's most powerful commons?
Benevolent Unicorn: Once upon a time, Grapeshot was legal in Pauper. And Storm was an absolutely dominant strategy that had to be banned and banned again. Of the ten cards on the Pauper banned list, five are Storm cards.
Choking Sands: A fixed version of Sinkhole, this was Black's second ever land destruction spell. Though it costs one mana more, now the same as Stone Rain, the non-basic land rider at least paid back the caster slightly for its tempo loss. And nobody was going to let us play Sinkhole again anyway, miserable card that it is.
Choking Sands was once one of the best answer to big mana decks like the now-banned Cloudpost and the now current Tron. The problem is that these decks now not only run Crop Rotation and Ghostly Flicker, but they also have main deck copies of Pulse of Murasa.
Kaervek's Torch: This was still the era where it was seen as acceptable to include a Red X spell at common. Oh, how we have learned!
Since Pauper's Hexproof Slippery Bogles are a real deck, built by piling auras not only on creatures but also lands, Serene Heart is a fantastic silver bullet answer to any deck piling Ethereal Armor and Armadillo Cloak pants on their Gladecover Scout.
Wall of Roots: This two-mana ramp card has a strong history of Constructed play, especially in formats where it was Standard legal. Being able to leverage mana on both turns, yours and your opponents is a huge advantage over traditional one-mana Elves.
While Wall of Roots hasn't had as much time to shine in Pauper as other formats, that might be because there isn't that much of a viable Green based ramp deck. The one deck where it does see play is the Axebane Guardian based "Freed From the Real" infinite mana combo deck.
Crypt Rats is Pauper's most powerful sweeper and has a long history of Pauper success as a staple to Mono-Black Devotion alongside lifegain cards like Corrupt, Tendrils of Corruption, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
Fireblast: Burn players rejoice! Four free points of damage makes Fireblast one of the best Burn finishers ever printed. While the alternate cost of sacrificing two Mountains means the card doesn't do quite as well in multiples (or as a removal spell), shortening your burn goal post from 20 points of damage to 16 without any additional mana cost is big game.
Fireblast is a huge part of the power of the Pauper Burn deck reducing its clock to win by a whole turn. Keep having fun out there, Burninators.
Funeral Charm: Charms were first introduced in Mirage with a second cycle added in Visions. Of the ten original charms, Funeral Charm is the best with 2 ¼ relevant modes among its three. Aside from being a removal spell, Funeral Charm is one of the only cards ever printed that allow you to force your opponent to discard at instant speed, meaning you can force an opponent to discard the card they just drew during their Draw step before their Main phase.
Impulse: One of Magic's first dig spells, Impulse allowed you to trade time and mana for deep card selection, particularly in a turn where you didn't need to counter a spell. The wording on the card is a bit redundant and bizarre: why bottom three cards if you are going to shuffle anyway?
Man-o'-War: Hello, Marshall Sutcliffe.
Some strange Affinity / Metalcraft or graveyard decks have dabbled in the zero mana Phyrexian Walker, but it rarely sees Pauper play.
Quirion Ranger is an unusual mana elf variant that combines exceptionally well with a turn one Llanowar Elves since the combination of the two elves can produce four mana on turn two. It can also untap creatures to give them pseudo-vigilance, reuse tap effects like Wellwisher's gain life, and if you have enough Forests in play it can do its thing both on your turn and your opponent's.
Quirion Ranger is one of the two most played Green spells in all of Pauper being an absolute staple in two of the best Green decks, Stompy and Elves. Please reprint me, Wizards!
River Boa: I remember reading an Inquest magazine in 1996 that had River Boa ranked as one of the ten best cards in Visions. While these magazines were notorious for their misses, this one was spot on as River Boa has been a Constructed card every time it has seen print.
Stompy likes to run a pair of these because both of its abilities are relevant. Not only are Islands the most common basic land in Pauper, but having regeneration is a great foil to the most common removal spells in the format.
Barrow Ghoul: The rate on this card is incredible for early Magic: 4/4 for at a time when Black didn't even get Walking Corpse at common! But its seemingly limited lifespan of consuming a finite resource from your graveyard meant that the card had some semblance of balance. Sadly, by the time graveyard stuffing became a prominent theme in Magic, there were better ways to abuse a graveyard than to feed the Barrow Ghoul.
Disrupt: What has to be one of the most "Gotcha" counterspells ever printed, Disrupt is limited in its scope but plays very powerfully. Originally a part of Randy Buehler's Mono-Blue Control list, Disrupt was a mirror breaker. Even today it is priced to move for Magic's Eternal formats.
While not one to see a ton of Pauper play, Disrupt is still one of the better "fun-ofs" out there to catch an opponent off guard. While not the most powerful counter available, it leads to "feel bads" on par with Soul Manipulation or Exclude.
Sadly, there are few Pauper decks that employ mana rocks since the format has a sparsity of four and five mana haymakers on par with Planeswalkers. The lone exception is Tron which uses its mana rocks as much for fixing as ramping with the current favorite being Simic Signet.
Ophidian: One of Magic's first saboteur creatures, Ophidian was the engine that fueled one of the first true tempo decks. It's embarrassing how much the card has been made obsolete today even by commons like Stealer of Secrets and Scroll Thief, let alone Constructed level rares, but Ophidian was the first of its kind.
Rogue Elephant: The OG Stompy, Rogue Elephant was the card that lent its name to the now perennial archetype of playing small Green creatures. Once it paired with cards like Harvest Wurm, but these days it has been outclassed by an assortment of other efficient zoo critters, like Wild Nacatl, particularly ones that lack the same harsh drawback of eating your forests.
While Pauper Stompy decks may have once ran the elephant, the steep drawback combined with its susceptibility to Lightning Bolt has long left Stompy players looking for better beaters.
Spinning Darkness : Weatherlight had a strong theme of economizing resources other than cards or mana. Various Weatherlight cards allowed you to exile cards from your library or from your graveyard or discard cards from your hand as either an additional cost or an alternate way to pay for your spells. One of these, Spinning Darkness, was a "free" spell version of Essence Drain. While that doesn't sound impressive, the tempo regained by playing a life-gaining removal for free was a great way to catch up with Aggro decks.
Spinning Darkness was one of the original suite of removal spells employed by Pauper's Mono-Black Control. As Aggro decks have shifted to Aggro-tempo and Combo decks, it has fallen out of favor but still remains a viable inclusion in the right metagame.